Wednesday, October 21, 2009

NFL Salary Cap Rules Pats Decisions

When you don’t understanding personnel decisions in the NFL the answer is almost always the salary cap.

Prior to the trading deadline speculation had Joey Galloway traded to Baltimore, Adalius Thomas being sent somewhere, and Deion Branch returning from Seattle. This week saw Tully Banta-Cain and Eric Alexander cut and then resigned. Sam Aiken was given a contract extension.

Let’s break down the implications of all of these deals.

The Boston Globe Extra Points had a column headed, “Could Thomas be on his way out?” Looking at the Pats salary cap structure can illuminate the likely answer, “no.” Adalius Thomas has a prorated signing bonus remainder of $13.2 million until the completion of his contract in 2011. In the NFL you can prorate a signing bonus over the life of a contract. That would mean that cutting or trading Thomas would escalate his cap number this year by approximately $7.2 million! With a Pats salary cap of $128 million this has huge implications. The Pats probably were under the cap by $5 million or so before the trading deadline and are even closer after the Banta-Cain, Alexander, and Aiken deals. They cannot trade Thomas. Belichick’s benching of Thomas this week was likely just to send him a message. Belichick knew how bad the Titans were and figured this was the week to do it. Thomas is probably regarded by Belichick as the number two linebacker behind Jerod Mayo. Thomas has not lived up to his contract nor his status as the number three paid player on the team behind Brady and Moss but he is still a productive member of the team. Even if he is the number three or four linebacker it makes neither economic nor football sense to cut him.

There were a number of stories surrounding speculation of Deion Branch being traded to New England. Both on the football side and salary cap side this deal could have made much more sense than a Thomas trade. Since coming to Seattle Branch played 14, 11, and then 8 games over the past three years. This year he has only played four of the six games, starting once with 12 catches in 94 yards and no touchdowns for the year. Seattle should be looking for more production out of one of the top salaries on the roster. There are a number of things that made this trade difficult.

1) Cap money Seattle would have had to eat: If cut or traded after week six Seattle would have to take approximately $8.25 million in cap money. This is 6/16ths of Branch’s 2009 $4.94 million salary plus half his approximate $13 million signing bonus covering 2009, 2010, and 2011. If the Seahawks kept him they would be paying $7.5 million under the cap. So they would be increasing their cap number this year for someone not on the roster. Since they have likely not given up on this season yet at two and four it made financial sense to hold onto him.

2) Cap space the Pats would have had to clear to be able to get Branch: Pats would need $3 million or so this year and $5.47 and $5.95 million in the next two years. They would be free to cut Branch before game 1 in the next two years saving that money but this is not the sort of deal that Belichick likes. The Pats could likely take on another $3 million in salary but it might have been at the expense of the Aiken, Banta-Cain, and Alexander deals. It also gives them less flexibility for the rest of the year should they need to sign additional players due to injury.

3) What could the Pats possibly trade that the Seahawks would value enough to give a up a somewhat productive player AND take a higher cap hit? I would speculate something like a 3rd, 4th, or 5th round pick. It is unlikely Belichick would make a trade getting an aging player with big money on his contract who hasn’t played a complete season in years.

Because of the difficulty of finding common ground in this deal, it wasn’t possible to pull it off. From the Pats side, Branch could definitely help and has the experience to get on the same page as Brady.

The Pats cut Joey Galloway after shopping him before the trading deadline. This was a case of performance and no salary cap benefit. The Pats actually owe Galloway all of his salary for this year as he was on a veteran’s contract and was on the roster for game one of the season. The Pats would have been able to shed the last ten weeks of his salary (about $719K) had they been able to trade him. The Pats cut him before the trading deadline to free up a roster spot for one of the players coming off of the PUP list, practice squad, or a free agent. The transaction was done before the trading deadline as a courtesy to a veteran so he could not be claimed off of waivers. (Veterans with four or more years of experience become immediate free agents before the trading deadline but must clear waivers after the trading deadline.) A dreadful team that Galloway didn’t want to play for could claim him and his salary and he would be obligated to fulfill the contract. Now he can negotiate with any team he chooses.

The Aiken, Banta-Cain, and Alexander moves were all a result of the salary cap. The Pats had extra cap money this year, they see these player s in their medium term future and signed Aiken and Banta-Cain to three year deals and altered Alexander’s deal to allow for an extension. Because of the upcoming expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) will potentially cause an uncapped year next year, the Pats are shrewdly locking up their middle class of players on the roster. A Deion Branch or Adalius Thomas type deal would have prohibited them from performing the housekeeping that the Pats feel is crucial for their success in 2010 and beyond.

The following resources were used for constructing this post…

Pats salary cap info:

Galloway info:

Branch info:

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